Listen to ‘Find Our Voice’ (track 7) from Like A Beautiful Day. The opening verse is about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar on the side of the road, the wonderful character we encounter in today’s Gospel.
Bartimaeus has a name and is forever remembered for his action today. From our vantage point, we can’t help but admire his courage and cheer him on. When he called on Jesus to take pity on him, many of the people around him told him to be quiet, but he only shouted louder.
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Open your hearts and speak your truth
The story can challenge us about what we see. Maybe there are people we know who are crying out for understanding and compassion and we’d rather have them be silent and go away.
Bartimaeus represents those people who are unwilling to remain on the margins, unwilling to listen to others who suggest that things cannot be different; that change is only daydreaming. And he represents all those people who speak out, speak up and find their voice. Of course, people who speak up are not always comfortable to be around especially if we feel threatened in anyway.
The cries of people like Bartimaeus who are not prepared to be silenced reach the heart of God. As we read, Jesus responded to his cries and said, ‘Call him to me.’ What an invitation. Perhaps we need to hear that invitation ourselves given the things we struggle with and cry about. Christ is not deaf to our pleas when they come from a place of genuine need. Somehow getting it out there is healing.
Bartimaeus made an incredible act of faith that things could be different. He refused to remain powerless and passive despite his disability. Silence can keep people in that situation, keep them down and remain beggars.
St Catherine of Siena, that great Dominican mystic and Doctor of the Church wrote, ‘Speak the truth in a million voices. It is silence that kills’. The crowd were wanting Bartimaeus to be silent, to dismiss him as if he didn’t exist. He wasn’t having a bar of it. I am here, I matter and this Jesus passing by knows it and believes it too.
I sometimes struggle to put into words things that are important to me but when I experience someone really listening and grappling with even my jumbled ideas, I feel safe to keep the conversation going. Often if we just keep speaking or have the courage to begin, we find our authentic voice. I suppose we will always have people who want to shut us down or try to dismiss us. We can’t win them all. Again, humility goes a long way.
Mark in the Gospel today is suggesting that to be a disciple, one must be prepared to break with conventions and risk leaving one’s own security. Speaking up and speaking out for things that matter calls us to be courageous. Bartimaeus threw off the security of his cloak and jumped up and went to Jesus.
When Jesus asked the disciples last week, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, they responded with ‘Grant us to sit on your right and left hand’ [Mk 10:36-37]. When Jesus meets the shouting of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, he asks: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus responds, ‘Teacher, that I may see’. What a difference. We may not be responsible for what we do not see, but we are responsible if we refuse to see, if we prefer to be blind and protected from the harsh realities that other people face, that protect us from seeking ways of responding.
Bartimaeus symbolises ‘the true disciple’. He sees what others miss: he understands who Jesus is. He is grounded in God's peace and though blind knows that God is a God of mercy. He had a vision the crowd didn’t have.
I am sure most of the time we want to see and we want to understand. It is important to ask the question why about issues facing our world, our country and our people and it is necessary to critique our sources of information? Do we demand the truth? What lens are we using in our criticisms or failure to criticise? Do we question the bias of our own line of vision? Are we willing to open our minds and hearts to the implications of what we see?
We need from time to time to recall the image of Jesus and Bartimaeus. When confronted by the dark side of our culture and society, we must live with confidence and possess the courage and freedom to surprise the world with new acts of love.
Let’s cry out with Bartimaeus: I want to see… how prejudice blinds us to the goodness of people who are different to us; how living our safe and comfortable lives can distract us from the demands of justice for the poor and marginalised. The hardest challenge is to learn to look differently, to look comprehensively, to see the world as God does: with empathy and mercy for his creation.